Third Senate candidate speaks to College Democrats

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Offering an antiestablishment alternative to his fellow Democratic contenders and the Republican incumbent in Rhode Island’s 2006 U.S. Senate race, Carl Sheeler told about 25 Brown College Democrats at the group’s weekly meeting Wednesday that he wanted the votes of the “80 percent” of Rhode Islanders who don’t read the newspaper or carefully follow political issues but who instead care about matters that directly affect them, such as skyrocketing oil prices.

Sheeler, 45, a business owner who has never held public office, is fighting Sheldon Whitehouse, a former state attorney general, and Secretary of State Matt Brown for the Democratic nomination. Incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee ’75 is running against Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey for the Republican nomination.

“Who is going to be the candidate who represents the interests of the average person in Rhode Island and the United States that feels the pinch of a two-and-a-half dollar or three-dollar gallon of gas? Do (the other candidates) even know what that feels like? Have you ridden on a bus because you can’t afford to take a car anywhere? I did that when I went to college. It’s a reality, and I know what it feels like,” Sheeler said.

Sheeler said Chafee wins because he is “likable.”

“Likable is what wins. Why? Because in Rhode Island, 20 percent – the ones I am looking at right now – are the only ones aware of the issues. The other 80 percent care about how much it costs for gas at the pump. They care about the person who is actually connecting with them,” he said.

Sheeler said a candidate can beat an incumbent like Chafee by representing himself “as someone who is going to work for the people of this state. Someone who rolls up their sleeves. Someone who has been where they have been at – the 80 percent, not the 20 percent. That is what I am about,” he said.

Sheeler opened his speech with a hypothetical look at the United States in 2010 – the Democratic party will remain “vanilla,” Democrats and Republicans will look even more alike, Roe v. Wade will have been overturned and the draft will have been reinstated as the United States uses the military to respond to an energy crisis of never-before-seen proportions, he suggested.

“How far-fetched do you think I am? Welcome to my reality. … It’s not that outside of the box – it’s a reality,” he said.

In a question-and-answer session with the Dems, Sheeler repeatedly delivered veiled criticisms of his opponents, not naming them specifically but saying his audience would know to whom he was referring. Sheeler attacked them for their large campaign budgets and failures to connect with the people.

He said he supported campaign finance reform because “it forces you to stump.” Candidates have to meet citizens and ask them what their problems are instead of buying pricy advertisements weeks before the election, he said.

He described his opponents’ criticisms of Chafee as “armchair quarterbacking” and said they did not provide real vision or leadership.

“Don’t poll everybody to make a decision,” Sheeler said, adding that he doesn’t poll. Instead he “finds out what people are saying – the people who are Rhode Island.”

Sheeler said his opponents have never experienced the problems most Rhode Islanders are facing, comparing their campaigns to a man telling a mother what it is like to give birth.

He asked students “to get outside of the Brown envelope and talk to the general public that don’t have the benefits that you do. I’m not condemning you … but talk to the people who have medical problems and haven’t seen a doctor because they can’t afford it. That’s reality, that’s the streets.”

Sheeler focused his comments on criticisms of his opponents and his claim that he understands the plight of the average citizen. He rarely mentioned specific policy issues, though he lambasted current energy policies and said he was in favor of universal health care.

Responding to a question about universal health care, Sheeler said, “I think the general public would accept the additional cost to make sure everybody has health insurance. If Social Security can reform, why can’t health care? I think we are ready for it. Ask anybody who can’t pay for (treatment for) a cyst on their body.”

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